Hours after US media reports about the possible death of Badruddin Haqqani, the operational chief of the infamous Haqqani network, in a drone strike, denials trickled in.
If true, Badruddin’s death could have been a major blow to the Haqqani network and a huge success in America’s unmanned war in the tribal regions against the group blamed for some of the most spectacular attacks against US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan.
“Badruddin was killed in a US drone strike in the Shawal area of North Waziristan on Tuesday,” a sympathiser of the Haqqani network told The Express Tribune. “He was sitting with three or four of his comrades when an unmanned aircraft fired two missiles at the compound.”
A leader of a Pakistani religious organisation having close ties with the Haqqani network also confirmed Badruddin’s death. “We are in shock,” he said, requesting anonymity.
Earlier in the day, The New York Times quoted senior American officials as saying that they have strong indications that Badruddin was killed in the drone strike.
“There are indications that Haqqani has met his demise,” a senior US official told NYT in Washington. He said that officials were waiting to sift through evidence before they could be certain that Badruddin had been killed.
The CIA, which carries out armed drone missions in tribal regions, declined to comment, as did the White House. The caution stemmed from previous erroneous claims by American and Pakistani officials about militant deaths in Waziristan.
The caution was, however, not unfounded.
Later in the evening, the Haqqani network chief dismissed reports of Badruddin’s death as “ridiculous”.
“We will not hide it if any of the Haqqani family members are martyred,” Ahmad Jan, the purported spokesperson for the network’s chief Sirajuddin Haqqani, told The Express Tribune by phone. “Martyrdom will only boost our jihadi spirit.”
Jan, however, confirmed that another member of the Haqqani family was killed in the same drone strike. Osama, son of a cousin of Badruddin, was killed about five kilometres from Miramshah four days ago. The 13-year-old was targeted while he was celebrating Eid with his friends, according to Jan.
“Some people assumed it was Badruddin Haqqani who had been killed when they saw his family members at the funeral,” he said.
The Afghan Taliban also said that Badruddin was alive and leading operations inside Afghanistan. “He is safe and reports of his death have been spread by the enemy,” Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement emailed to The Express Tribune.
According to him, the enemy spread rumours of Badruddin’s death “to divert attention from the defeat of its troops in Afghanistan and boost the morale of its forces.”
“We categorically deny these reports and request the media to adopt a responsible behavior,” Mujahid said.
Pakistani analysts are divided over the impact Badruddin’s possible death would have on the operational capability of the Haqqani Network.
While defence expert Hasan Askari says Badruddin’s death would strengthen the US, former Pakistani ambassador in Kabul Rustam Shah Mohmand maintains it will have no major impact as Sirajuddin Haqqani is already in charge of the group’s operations.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 26th, 2012.